Author Archives: mike.merchant

The surprising fall armyworm

I’ve noticed something lately. People are consistently amazed when nature intrudes on their lives, as if it’s a great exception to some law that states “nothing unusual should ever happen to me.” Whether it’s hurricanes or a snake in the house, or something as mundane as a caterpillar outbreak, the usual reaction is astonishment.  That seems to be the common thread among callers this week with regard to the latest fall armyworm outbreak. I say “latest,” because fall armyworms are nothing new. According to Dr. Allen Knutson, extension agricultural… Read More →

How to treat your crapemyrtle for bark scale

YouTube is both a tremendous waste of time and also one of the best things to happen to DIYers in, like,… forever.  I find myself checking it constantly for instructions on how to do everything, from troubleshooting my computer to making repairs on my car.  So why not a video on how to control crapemyrtle bark scale? What is crapemyrtle bark scale (CMBS)? It’s a small sap-feeding insect that lives on the bark of certain plants, especially crapemyrtle. Thanks to its sugary excrement, it turns crapemyrtles with beautiful… Read More →

Living with squash vine borer

A gardener recently asked me what she could do about squash vine borer. She then proceeded to list all the recommended treatments she had tried already, ranging from shooting the vines up (literally, with a hypodermic syringe full of Bt), to putting out yellow bowls to catch adult moths, to watching a gazillion videos on YouTube, to praying to the bird gods to eat the little buggers. To answer her question I spent time reviewing a new and old publications, including a new review of the literature on… Read More →

Emerald ash borer makes a move

Ever since the dreaded emerald ash borer (EAB) showed up in Arkansas and Louisiana, tree lovers have braced themselves for its inevitable arrival in Texas.  Then, in May 2016, the insect was discovered in a single surveillance trap near Caddo Lake in Harrison County in east Texas.  In 2017 all was quiet, with no officially reported sightings; but this summer the beetle has been found in possibly three new counties. What is EAB? The EAB is a small but powerful beetle pest–an enemy of ash trees. Adult beetles… Read More →

Insect ID via mobile device

I get lots of images in email and on the web for identification. I get to see some amazing insects and good pictures this way, but I also receive a lot of really bad insect pictures. And since bad pictures don’t help your chances of getting a successful identification, it’s in everyone’s interest to take better pictures.  So here are five tips for improving your chances to get an insect identified via email, your cell phone or other mobile device. Focus on the insect, not the background.  Corollary… Read More →

When ants invade

It’s ant season, and garden centers around Texas are swarming with folks looking for a quick solution to ant invasions. Ants have been the bane of humankind since before the first picnic. But who could imagine how much misery and anger a tiny little insect like an ant could produce? But of course it’s never just one ant that’s the problem.  As I was recently reminded, one ant can quickly turn into dozens on the floor, on counter-tops and in the bathroom. My wife and I experienced that… Read More →

Chigger season

If my phone calls are any indication, this appears to be a whopping chigger season.  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  You should count your blessings. Chiggers are my personal worst nightmare. They are tiny mites, barely visible to the eye, that live on the soil surface and, in their larval stage, are parasites on humans and other vertebrate animals. Chigger bites itch terribly for 1-2 days, then slowly shrink to mildly itchy red marks that take 1 or 2 weeks to disappear. The only good thing I… Read More →

Caring about the Other Bees

In my experience, most people like bees. Aside from the occasional bad encounter with a sting, most of us know that bees are good, and a necessary part of our spaceship-earth zoo. Recently, we’ve heard about honey bee die-offs due to a variety of problems. These stories are almost always about domesticated European honey bees, not native and wild bees.  These problems are largely cultural and have to do with sanitary bee management, not so much with ecological issues. Bees are important to agriculture and will be well… Read More →

Oak catkin mirid

Naturalists in Texas have no shortage of interesting insects to observe. If you were paying attention over the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed a small bug present in large numbers, especially around live oak trees. I’ve received several samples, some of which were sent by curious homeowners and some by pest control professionals. In some cases, they were observed clustering around doorways, other submitters just remarked that they were “very common right now.” Given the large number of small brown plant bugs on Bugguide, I… Read More →

Treehoppers

Every year brings its own oddities of entomology. Some years caterpillars strip trees bare in the spring, other years grasshoppers arrive in hoards.  This spring I’ve had a couple of reports of a small insect called a treehopper, sometimes in large numbers. Treehoppers are surely one of the most curious looking insects encountered by gardeners. They feed on plant sap, like many insects found in trees, but rarely seem to do much damage.  The most distinctive feature of the treehopper family is an upright, fin-like structure arising from… Read More →